What’s important to understand about the film is that Charlotte Wells has been open about how her own life inspired it. In a recent interview with The Guardian, she said how she used the memories of her own relationship with her father to piece together an ultimately fictitious, but still personal story:
“I suppose I like to put ‘Aftersun’ in a ‘personal filmmaking’ bucket. I enjoyed figuring out the film as a story and making choices that served [the] film. And I enjoyed figuring out who these characters were, that were unquestionably based on myself and my dad, and our character traits were the basis of Callum (Paul Mescal) and Sophie’s (Frankie Corio) character traits. But at the same time, I like filmmaking and in this script, it was always about serving this film.”
“Aftersun” is not a one-for-one autobiography, and Wells makes this clear in that same interview, highlighting how its craft has often been overshadowed by its personal nature. However, that very nature is key to understanding how layered and nuanced the film is. The feeling of grieving a parent you never got to truly know is one that many people will never understand, but those that do will know that it is a complicated one to explain. Wells did a damn good job at adapting these emotions into art, but many viewers, both complimentary and critical, have misinterpreted these same emotions as purely for aesthetics or shallowly metaphorical. It’s not hard to see this as a reflection of the current state of storytelling.